First, the Good News

1) National: Donald Cohen’s The Privatization of Everything is now an audiobook. “The book is an argument intended to reclaim the idea of the public and reclaim our governments as tools of the public. It is a call to use public conversation and debate to define public goods, and to ensure those public goods remain under public—democratic—control.” Listen to Donal Cohen’s interview on the Current Affairs podcast.

 2) National: The Biden administration has announced that 74,000 more student loan borrowers have had their debt canceled. “Among those were 44,000 public service workers, including teachers, nurses and firefighters, according to a White House press release. AFSCME says “that additional debt cancellation, totaling $5 billion, is further proof that President Joe Biden is unwavering in his fight for public service workers. According to the release, the public service workers saw their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. AFSCME has fought alongside the Biden-Harris administration to repair the broken PSLF program, which was meant to encourage public service work with the promise of having the balance of their federal direct student loans forgiven after 10 years of repayments.”

3) National: CNBC reports that the Labor Department’s new independent contractor rule could help workers recover lost wages. ““Misclassification is a problem that affects many low-paid industries like construction, transportation, home health care,” says Sally Dworak-Fisher, senior staff attorney at NELP. But “people in every occupation at all types of pay levels” can be vulnerable to it, says Samantha Sanders, director of government affairs and advocacy at the Economic Policy Institute. A new rule change under the Fair Labor Standards Act, set to take effect on March 11, is aimed at curbing this misclassification. Here’s what it means for workers.”

4) National: The GAO reports that “the federal government’s fledgling program offering agency employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave was used by 4% of the workforce over the first 22 months of its existence.” GAO wrote that “members of the Senior Executive Service who used paid parental leave were less likely to use the full 12 weeks of leave than employees in other pay categories who also used the leave (around 65% for Senior Executive Service members compared to 81% for employees overall)… In addition, OPM officials told us they observed considerable agency variability in the 2022 FEVS percentages of employees who used paid parental but did not use the full 12 weeks of leave because (1) they were concerned about the impact on their career advancement, and (2) their coworkers and supervisors did not support their use of all 12 weeks of leave. OPM officials said that the variations may reflect differences in agency culture or the nature of the agency’s mission.” [The full report]

5) California/National: Childcare workers are organizing for better pay and treatment, writes Sarah Carr in The Hechinger Report. “In spite of historically poor treatment and low pay, child care workers have been exceptionally hard to unionize, due to high turnover rates, the geographic spread and isolation of the workforce, labor laws, and other factors. Yet there have been union victories in recent years. In California, Child Care Providers United, which represents more than 40,000 home-based providers, won the right to collective bargaining in 2019, and last year secured a second substantial reimbursement increase from the state for many home child care providers. In New Mexico, where it’s harder for employees to unionize, organizers have taken a different tack: Through the leadership of an organization called OLÉ, parents and child care teachers joined forces to organize a public awareness campaign which contributed to voters approving a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to free child care for most of the state’s families.”

6) Florida: Miami-Dade County’s Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has proposed a $2.5 billion bond referendum to fund infrastructure projects, which voters will decide in November. “Proceeds from the “305 Future Ready” bonds would fund housing, septic to sewer conversions, flood prevention and resilient parks, Levine Cava said during her State of the County address Wednesday night at the Miami Zoo. The 305 is from Miami’s area code. ‘We have laid the foundation and we must continue to build—so our kids and grandkids can rely on transit to get them where they need to go, enjoy an environment just as beautiful as it is protected, grow up in safe communities, and get good jobs in the new workforce,’ she said. The mayor will work with County Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins to craft a referendum for voters on the November ballot.” [Sub required]

7) Minnesota: “For the first time in decades, Minnesota’s public defenders are now being paid as much as prosecutors and it’s resulting in droves of county attorneys pivoting to public defense,” the Minneapolis Star Tribne reports.

“The Minnesota Legislature over the summer approved a dramatic pay increase for public defenders. Since then, two elected county attorneys have joined public defender offices and 21 assistant county attorneys followed suit, said Robert Small, director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. Recruitment and retention challenges because of pay and dwindling applicant pools, especially in greater Minnesota, predate the historic pay raise, but Small said those issues seem exacerbated. Small said he knows one full-time prosecutor who left to make $60,000 more as a public defender. A growing number of counties are trying to stay competitive in response. Job openings on the county attorney association’s website lists 25 positions and several tout a new pay scale and hiring incentive.”


8) National: The Network for Public Education has sent out an urgent email alert asking people to weigh in against moves in Congress to open the door to national federal school vouchers. “This week was School Choice Week, and the usual suspects are pressuring Congress to pass a national tax-credit voucher bill called the Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA). That bill, and 60 second ads supporting it, are being pushed by the Invest in Education Coalition a coalition that appears to have no members, just three board directors. The ECCA would give tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to tax-exempt organizations that provide scholarships to K-12 students to attend private schools. Donors could receive up to a $5,000 tax credit, potentially draining our national treasury of up to ten billion dollars this year.”

9) National: The Partnership for the Future of Learning, a national resource center defending public schools, has produced a Truth in Education Funding Guide, which “offers key resources to understand the controversy surrounding vouchers and advocate for equitable and effective public education. School voucher programs use public funds to pay for private education costs. These programs are spreading despite overwhelming evidence that they are harmful public policy. In recent years, more and more states have introduced or expanded voucher programs, costing the public billions of dollars annually. Often, these programs are in states that already underfund their public schools, where most young people receive their education.”

10) National/Georgia: The Biden administration is responding to widespread concern about the fiscal impact of an end to federal COVID-19 relief aid by calling on school districts to marshal their resources to continue the programs rather than create more vouchers programs and charter schools.

“In a meeting with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution education reporting team last week, Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, acknowledged the trepidation among school districts across the country about depletion of the $130 billion in American Rescue Plan aid. But rather than seeing the ending as a financial gangplank, Cardona said the federal government was passing a baton to states and districts to ‘match the urgency of the president and vice president’ around education funding. (…) Georgia received about $6 billion in federal school aid and must spend all of it by the end of the year. Much of it went to adding teachers and staff to address learning losses and mental health problems. Evidence suggests that investment in staffing helped U.S. students rebound from pandemic learning gaps. In an international benchmarking test, the United States advanced in world rankings in reading, math and science, not because we jumped ahead of other nations but because their students saw greater declines.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that “schools have until next fall to finish spending it. Then, they’ll be standing at the precipice of what observers have been calling a ‘fiscal cliff.’ District leaders will have to figure out how to cover their increased staffing costs, likely with minimal outside help. ‘I’m terrified about that,’ said Stephen Pruitt, an expert on education in the South. ‘When that federal money dries up, either the school districts are going to have to find a way to fund those teachers or we’re going to see all those teachers’ salaries go away,’ said Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board.”

11) Florida: Republican extremist state rep Alex Andrade, who authored radical legislation to strip entire academic majors from Florida universities, has now come up with an omnibus privatization bill for the state’s public schools. “‘Conversion Charter Schools’ (HB 109/SB 246) would remove the requirement that a conversion charter school application must have at least 50 percent approval from the teachers employed at the school. Only the approval of the majority of parents would be needed to convert the school,” the Tallahassee Democrat reports. “The bill would also allow an unused public school facility to be turned into affordable housing if a charter school does not use the building within six months. The bill also states if a school district has declining enrollment of more than 1% for two consecutive years, vacant buildings must be offered to charter schools. And if the charter schools don’t need the property after six months, it must be offered as affordable housing. Over half of Florida’s charter schools are run by for-profit companies, according to a 2023 report by the Network for Public Education. Florida ties for second with Ohio at 52% as the state with the largest number of for-profit charters. Michigan comes in first, with 70%.”

12) Illinois: The Chicago Board of Education has renewed contracts with 12 charter networks, impacting 49 schools. “The vote represented the first round of charter renewals under the current board. In the months leading up to Thursday’s vote, Chicago’s charter school community worried that the board, appointed by Mayor Brandon Johnson, would make it more challenging for charters to get renewed. Johnson, who rose to power as an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, has long been critical of charter schools, but has also said he doesn’t oppose them.

More recently, the board passed a resolution stating its intention to move away from school choice and focus on sending more resources to neighborhood schools. The resolution does not call for the closure of schools of choice, such as charters, but board leaders said they would be more closely scrutinizing charter schools.”

13) Maryland: The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) is fighting back against the privatization of school support staff jobs. “As support staff across Maryland continue the fight for a living wage, fairness, and respect through MSEA’s ESP Bill of Rights, the looming threats of privatization by school districts, which import lower-paid workers from outside areas, indeed risk the stability of school communities and undermine the value of ESP and other educators. Too often, the support given to students has also declined when for-profit companies are brought into schools with no knowledge of the students and communities. ‘We know that support staff are absolutely essential to the success of our students and our schools,’ Bost added. ‘We also know that the goals of the Blueprint can’t be fulfilled without a high-quality, diverse support staff workforce. Unchecked privatization, primarily focused on making a profit, gets us further from, not closer to, those goals.’”

14) Minnesota: “Bus drivers are pushing back on efforts by the Barnum school district to sell its fleet and contract bus services with a private company as it navigates a critical shortage of drivers,” the Pine Journal reports. “Though 4.0 says it would honor the driver’s current union contract, the drivers only have the assurance of the company’s word—and they’re skeptical. ‘They say they are going to pay for insurance,’ bus driver Dave Jezierski said. ‘They say they are going to pay for a lot of things, but when you look at what they are hiring people at, how can they pay us that exorbitant amount and we don’t get laid off as soon as they find someone to take our place. They talk a pretty picture, but it just isn’t so.’”

“For American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union representative Tom Whiteside, who represents the bus drivers’ local union, the district could be doing itself a disservice in attracting new bus drivers by terminating its operations. ‘The reason that the school district is telling us they are planning to privatize is because they are having trouble hiring bus drivers, and we don’t think that is a very good argument,’ Whiteside said. ‘We don’t think the solution is getting rid of people’s pension and their union contract will draw more people in the door.’”

15) Pennsylvania: Despite a past record of poor performance by virtual charter schools in the state, “Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration approved a new cyber charter school in the state for the first time in eight years, breaking from Democrats’ long-held disapproval of the low-performing virtual schools,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “The quiet approval of a new cyber charter school—which will draw money from school districts—comes as Shapiro prepares an upcoming budget address that will be closely watched for its approach to fixing the state’s broken school funding system.” Donna Cooper, executive director of the Children First advocacy group, said “giving another school license to bilk school districts for a low-quality education flies in the face of any rational decision-making,”


16) National: The Biden administration has unveiled a nearly $5 billion program for major grants to three dozen big-ticket infrastructure projects across the country. “Biden appeared for a photo-op on the snowy shores of Lake Superior near a sign that says, ‘Project funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,’” Route Fifty reports. “‘For decades, people talked about replacing this bridge, but it never got done until today,’ Biden later told supporters at a nearby brewery. ‘This investment is going to make a huge difference: less traffic, fewer car accidents, faster commutes to your jobs and schools, quicker response times from fire trucks and first responders when every minute counts. Goods are going to get shipped quicker and commerce will flow more freely.’”

17) National: Rural hospitals are facing an acute infrastructure crisis, the Daily Montanan reports. Medicare privatization is making it worse. “Increased costs—payroll, inflation—amid lower insurance payments from insurance make it harder for small hospitals to fund capital improvement. And rising interest rates are making it tougher for aging facilities to qualify for loans to upgrade their facilities to meet ever-changing standards of medical care. Miller said the biggest problem for small rural hospitals is that private insurance is no longer covering the full cost of care. Medicare Advantage, a program under which Medicare pays private plans to provide coverage, is a major contributor, he said. ‘You’re basically taking patients away from what may be the best payer that the small hospital has,’ Miller said. The private plan pays less and ‘ends up also using a variety of techniques to deny claims.’”

18) National/Maine: “Blizzards are inescapable—but the most expensive winter storm damage is largely preventable,” writes Michel Bruneau of the University of Buffalo in the Lewiston Sun-Journal. “I have worked on engineering strategies to enhance disaster resilience for over three decades and recently wrote a book, “The Blessings of Disaster,” about the gambles humans take with disaster risk. Snowstorms stand out for how preventable much of the damage really is.” Other tips: pay attention to roofs; prepare for power outages.

19) California: Disneyland want to privatize public roads, and the pushback has begun. Will Anaheim let them do it? Voice of OC’s Spencer Custodio and Hosam Elattar report. “Disney, which routinely funds city council campaigns, is looking to privatize public roads in Anaheim as part of the theme park’s proposed expansion – Disneyland Forward—mostly within its existing boundaries. It comes during the fallout of Orange County’s biggest corruption scandal in recent history—one in which independent investigators and FBI agents essentially say Disneyland resort interests largely control city hall. “The street closures are really troubling,” said Anaheim resident Cynthia Ward, a former city council aide, OC Cemetery District Trustee, and longtime good government activist. Ward is among a growing number of residents and activist groups that are asking whether their local streets should be given to a multi-billion entertainment juggernaut without adequate compensation. Groups like Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development are also questioning the real impacts on quality of life for residents.”

20) New York: The New York State Public Service Commission has issued notice of an evidentiary hearing on rates for Veolia, the major water privatization company. “An evidentiary hearing in the Veolia Water rate case will commence at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 13, 2024. The hearing will be held at the Public Service Commission’s Albany offices. All persons who intend to attend the hearing, and who are not Department of Public Service employees, must provide their name via email to Aisha Hammer (Aisha.Hammer@dps.ny.gov), prior to 2:00 p.m. on Friday, February 9, 2024, and must be prepared to show valid photo identification upon arrival at 3 Empire State Plaza. These procedures are necessary to comply with building security requirements.”

21) Pennsylvania: A state senate committee is scrutinizing water privatization in the Philadelphia suburbs. “As private water companies continue to acquire more public water systems in Pennsylvania, state lawmakers are scrutinizing a 2016 amendment to the public utility code, also known as Act 12. The law outlines a negotiating framework to determine the value of a public water system including assets, predicted revenue, and expected repair costs. Critics of the law say since its passage, water companies have seized the attention of local officials by dangling massive short-term acquisition prices, buoying a locality’s purse in the short term—but harming the ratepayer in the long run with price hikes and leaving residents disillusioned with the process. ‘All the consequences of Act 12 derived from the simple fact that Act 12 has given the green light for private utilities to lure local municipalities into deals that are bad for their residents who are then left to pay the bill,’ said Peter Mrozinski, a co-founder of Keep Water Affordable.”

Public Services

22) National: Underpaid workers in privatized government services are pushing back—and organizing. “Small pay increases Maximus management recently doled out—including 19 cents an hour to one worker and a dollar to the other—aren’t stopping the hundreds of workers at that top federal contractor from continuing their union organizing drive.” The Biden administration “wants all federal contractors to pay their workers at least $15 an hour. And Maximus, a top contractor for the Department of Health and Human Services, is defying that mandate. “We are essential workers who work for a federal contractor and should be treated like federal employees—and get paid like federal employees,” one of the two responded. Maximus workers, aided by the Communications Workers, have been campaigning for union recognition for months. Maximus employs approximately 10,000 workers, most of them women of color, at call centers to handle and direct callers seeking to enroll in the Affordable Care Act’s state exchanges, Medicare or Medicaid. It has a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to do so.”

Maximus isn’t resting on its laurels. This corporate cyclops has just announced a “new Federal growth leadership team managing three key verticals across Civilian, Health, and Defense. This announcement aligns with the company’s market, technology, and business process initiatives, reimaging how agencies implement technologies and improve the customer experience (CX) for the public.” CX? There’s a video on that.

23) National: “We need to stop private equity from stealing our retirement and ruining our public goods,” writes Aaron Wistar in Current Affairs. “But even as public pensions provide vital support for the nearly 20 million people who work for state and local governments, their funding often comes directly at the expense of other workers. Public pension funds once invested mainly in safe public debt and highly-rated corporate bonds. Since the early 2000s, however, they’ve poured more and more money into risky ‘alternative assets’ like real estate, hedge funds and, above all, private equity (PE)—an industry notorious for aggressive, high-risk buyout deals that leave a trail of layoffs, benefit cuts, and bankruptcies in their wake. The private equity market, once a niche sector, has exploded as a result, growing from $576 billion in 2000 to $7.6 trillion in 2022. Flush with pension-fund cash, major PE firms like Blackstone, KKR, Apollo, and the Carlyle Group have elbowed their way to the very center of the U.S. financial system, with executives taking home 10- and 11-figure compensation packages that top bank CEOs can only dream of. Three recent books— Brendan Ballou’s Plunder, Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s These Are the Plunderers, and Brett Christophers’ Our Lives in Their Portfolios—argue that this development has been an unmitigated disaster.”

24) National: On Thursday, the Biden administration privatized the nation’s helium reserve, and the medical world is worried. “Once the deal is finalized, the buyer—which will likely be the highest bidder, the industrial gas company Messer—will claim some 425 miles of pipelines spanning Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, plus about 1 billion cubic feet of the only element on Earth cold enough to make an MRI machine work. Regulatory and logistical issues with the facility threaten a temporary shutdown as it passes from public to private ownership, and hospital supply chain experts worry the sale could have serious consequences for health care down the road—especially when it comes to MRIs.”

Scott Whitaker, President and CEO of AdvaMed, the Medtech Association, had urged the White House to delay the sale and privatization of the Federal Helium Reserve “until concerns about resulting supply chain disruptions are resolved.” AdvaMed’s President and CEO Scott Whitaker said “while innovations to use less helium in medtech are under way, MRI machines are made to last for years as an investment and aren’t easily replaced. AdvaMed urges the White House to delay the sale and privatization of the Federal Helium Reserve until outstanding issues identified by the Compressed Gas Association are resolved. Timely, critical patient care would suffer if helium supplies constricted further.”

25) National: “Artificial intelligence” (AI) has made its way into police departments, and the train wrecks are piling up. “An official with the Government Accountability Office said during her testimony at the hearing that it is unknown how accurate the brands of AI software used by police are. The hearing came a week after 18 Democratic senators raised concerns that the Justice Department is not doing enough to regulate the use of AI by police.

‘We are deeply concerned that facial recognition technology may reinforce racial bias in our criminal justice system and contribute to arrests based on faulty evidence,’ the senators, led by Raphael Warnock of Georgia, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. One story shared in the letter was that of a Black man in Georgia who was arrested for using stolen credit cards to buy designer purses in Louisiana. The man remained behind bars for six days before authorities realized his arrest was the result of a bad facial recognition match and that he had never been to the state.”

26) National: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has given us an email heads up: “Sometime next week, a crucial bill is scheduled to be marked up in the Senate. The bipartisan Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act. As POGO’s Joe Spielberger and Government Accountability Project’s Tom Devine point out in an op-ed, Congress has approved upwards of $4 trillion in new federal spending since 2020 alone. That money is directed in part to contractors, who carry out the government’s projects in every sector from defense and transportation to health care and disaster relief. The wide breadth of spending creates many opportunities for waste and fraud. Unfortunately, contractor employees who try to speak out against the misuse of funds face retaliation from their employers — enduring harassment and threats, and even risking losing their jobs, in large part because the whistleblower laws that are meant to shield them from this backlash haven’t been updated in years. It is frankly in Congress’s best interest to ensure contractor employees feel safe coming forward to report the misuse of funds that they see—it helps them make sure the trillions they’re spending are actually being used as intended.”

27) California: Supporters of the Huntington Beach Public Library are sounding the alarm about a possible plot to privatize the library to LSSI, the leading public library privatization corporation. “We have received reports that Library Systems & Services  (LSS) a private for-profit company that outsources library services, has been working covertly with  HB’s Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, a known enemy of public libraries and free speech. She is planning to announce this scheme to privatize our City’s libraries at a February Council meeting. Privatization of HBPL would give control to this for-profit company whose stated goal has been to grow revenues and profits for their investors. Incidentally, HB’s former mayor Mike Posey works for LSS. Help stop this corporate takeover and misuse of our tax dollars to further institute book bans by reaching out to the City Council today. Email them with your concerns at city.council@surfcity-hb.org. 4:32 PM · Jan 24, 2024.”

@SupportHBPL says “Opinion: Do Not Outsource Library Services https://fullertonobserver.com/2022/03/08/do-not-outsource-library-services/ via @Fullertonobser2 Take a tip from Fullerton: Huntington Beach Public Library should not be privatized. Professional librarians should select our books, not corporations.”

28) Massachusetts: Writing in The American Prospect, Maureen Tkacik details the devastating impact that private equity has had on the Bay State’s hospitals. “Caritas Christi, was owned by the private equity firm Cerberus, which extracted more than $800 million in excess of its investment out of the hospitals, then left during the pandemic.” But although “erstwhile Boston media darling Steward Health Care has been strip-mining hospitals for a decade now … the power elite may finally be paying attention.”

Tkacik follows the money: “We also know, thanks to forensic investigations conducted by Maltese media outlets in conjunction with the investigative journalism nonprofit behind the Panama and Paradise Papers, that Steward wired at least 5.9 million euros between 2017 and 2020 to a Swiss entity called Accutor AG that in turn sent payments to the former Maltese prime minister who facilitated Steward’s privatization of the nation’s hospitals.”

29) New York: Does a city need its own EMS? “The man collapsed on the sidewalk and was left unaided for more than two minutes. He died in the hospital two weeks before Christmas, although the cause of death hasn’t been shared. The Rochester community has been doing soul searching since the tragedy was made public. Questions about services for citizens and about the contractor, under fire in some other parts of the nation, appear likely to persist. AMR incident reaction: EMS ‘under immense pressure.’ After the incident, AMR contacted the New York State Department of Health Bureau of EMS and Trauma Systems and requested a formal investigation. The crew is on leave. AMR is not commenting on the Nov. 30 event. ‘Emergency medical services nationwide remain under immense pressure from growing demand due to a lack of mental health and social services programs coupled with significant staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic,’ a spokesperson for American Medical Response said.”

All the Rest

30) National/New Jersey: Immigration rights groups are joining New Jersey’s legal fight against the state’s last remaining immigration detention facility, NJ Spotlight News reports. “A federal judge in August sided with the for-profit prison company that runs the center in Elizabeth, finding that the closure of the center would be ‘nothing short of chaos.’ But the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have joined the Murphy administration’s appeal and argued the state is well within its constitutional rights to shut the center down. ‘This case really is about who has power over what,’ said Molly Linhorst, staff attorney for ACLU-NJ. ‘And while the federal government does have significant power, really holds the power over immigration enforcement, this is not about immigration enforcement. It’s about the health and safety of people within New Jersey’s borders.’”

31) International/Argentina: Last Wednesday in Argentina, there was a national general strike to fight back against a draconian set of proposals by the country’s new extreme right president, Javier Milei, to slash the public workforce and massively privatize state services. “It calls for the privatization of major state enterprises such as Argentine Airlines, ARSAT – a state telecommunications company, Argentine Trains, Public TV, the Water and Sewage Company (AySA), and the National Bank. Milei also included a list of another several dozen companies that have majority state participation such as Argentina Energy, military factories, the General Port Administration, Corredores Viales or the highway company, Argentine Mail, and Telam, the National News Agency.”

32) New Resource: Route Fifty, the state and local government online news outlet, has started a list service, Generative AI in State and Local Government. “Route Fifty looks at how generative artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT are raising alarms among government agencies concerned about security risks to their users and systems. (…) By submitting this form, you agree to have your contact information, including email, passed on to the sponsors of this asset for the purpose of following up on your interests.”

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